Original article published by the Baltimore Business Journal on September 22, 2022
As an educational institution, the top priority for private schools is a safe, secure, and nurturing learning environment. However, over the past few years, many schools have been forced to implement stop-gap technology strategies. Unfortunately, these scattershot tactics have only compounded the challenges of modern education. Most of today’s K-12 students learn through technology first—and both students and teachers need technology that can support their efforts.
A comprehensive technology plan for K-12 schools may seem peripheral, but it can’t be ignored. Covid-19 changed the classroom environment forever. From establishing effective processes and systems to securing student information, a technology program is critical for risk mitigation, compliance, and the security of confidential information.
Perhaps more urgently, stronger technology will help educators better navigate the struggles impacting educational institutions today—disengaged students, limited funding, and a significant reduction in available teachers.
Challenges: What’s Holding Schools Back?
Today’s schools are juggling a lot of priorities, which often means that IT strategy ends up being deprioritized. As a result of an undefined or insufficient technology plan, the common challenges faced by educational institutions, especially in the private sector, are further amplified.
Data privacy and cybersecurity are critical to the success of any educational institution. However, the fundamental difference between private schools and public schools—both faced with the same technological challenges—is resource availability, which presents most commonly as personnel and funding.
- Personnel: Independent private schools, particularly chartered schools, frequently must rely on existing staff to supplement IT-related needs. Hiring a full-time, dedicated employee to oversee technology and back-office requirements is costly. As such, teachers or administrators are relied upon to figure out, resolve, and manage various technology and security demands.
- Funding: Comparatively, while public schools may struggle with staffing, they have the advantage of a dedicated IT department, compliance resources, and other government funding. Without this type of support, private schools are far less inclined to invest in back-office functions, leading to an even bigger gap in recognizing the tangible, measurable benefits of doing so. This often means that things like clearances, record maintenance, regulatory compliance, accounting, IT services, cybersecurity, and data privacy are at even greater risk.
In fact, in 2021, there were 166 reported cyber incidences in U.S. schools, 62 of which were ransomware attacks, with students being lucrative targets. These incidents can cost schools millions of dollars in losses, jeopardize stakeholder data and information, and damage a school’s reputation.
Undefined IT Strategy
At the top of the pandemic, schools scrambled to quickly implement technologies and tools that would enable the continuation of learning from home. It was an act of necessity without intentional planning or standardization. However, more than two years later, schools can neither afford to continue this unsystematic approach nor eliminate the use of the newly introduced technologies.
Yet, persistent technology struggles impact the entirety of the classroom.
- Students get frustrated and engagement dips
- Teachers find themselves spending inordinate time trying to manage and integrate multiple systems, tools, and applications
- Parents get concerned by the lack of a friendly user experience—for their child(ren) and themselves
An informed comprehensive IT strategy is necessary to meet the evolving needs of students, teachers, parents, and other key stakeholders. Otherwise, it will continue to be increasingly difficult to keep students and teachers focused on education.
Ineffective Alumni Relationship Management
Schools spend the bulk of their time attracting and acquiring new students and providing them with a valued education. Yet, it’s astounding how quickly institutions lose track of alumni after graduation—a prime timeframe to further nurture and leverage an existing and loyal relationship. Think about how many times the average college graduate gets called by their college for a donation, even if it is nominal.
As alumni, your former students have spent the better part of four years invested in the education and opportunities your school provided. These alumni show the greatest potential for donations (even microdonations), referrals, mentorship, and volunteering. Converting this kind of allegiance into a lifelong relationship is critical to future success.
This is especially true in the Maryland/DC area, where high school pride is quintessential to status. When people ask, “where did you go to school?” the answer being sought is that of high school, not college or university.
Schools have an opportunity to capitalize on this with the use of technology. Imagine being able to unite your entire ecosystem—students, parents, teachers, donors, and the community—with updated records, automated outreach, and nurturing campaigns. That’s where a technology strategy is instrumental.
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Solutions: Where Do We Go From Here?
Despite 51% of schools reporting that technology is a strategic priority, only 22% admit to not having an IT strategy. But, as we’ve covered above, it’s rarely from a lack of awareness.
A comprehensive technology strategy is more than just hiring a person or team to “figure things out.” It requires a culture shift that enables the placement of technology in its proper position within the school and effective change management to ensure seamless adoption.
- Assessing the current technology environment to uncover gaps and opportunities
- Identifying the appropriate, universal technologies required to achieve results
- Gaining support from stakeholders, including administration and teachers
- Standardizing and integrating technology solutions, data, and processes
- Leveraging tools and technologies to optimize communications, outreach, marketing, fundraising, and development
Irrespective of the tools that your organization uses, a defined and strategic plan is required to ensure sustainable and scalable success.
Your technology strategy should help you:
- Acquire new students
- Raise funds
- Develop lasting relationships with alumni
- Reach the community
- Communicate with parents
- Educate students in any environment (in-person, remote, hybrid, post-education)
- Empower teachers
- Secure student and confidential records and data
- Reduce the risk and impacts of inevitable cyber threats
- Quickly respond to a cyber-attack and ensure the security of information
- Optimize back-office operations
77% of educators say that technology makes engaging students easy, and improves their own performance, too. Education technology is becoming as essential to education as the physical school itself. A consistent and future-focused technology strategy will help your school drive better outcomes, retaining talent while reducing overhead.
The Next Steps
Take inventory, listen, and act. 67% of educators say training is a funding priority but only 15% of staff feel they get adequate training and support. So, while edtech is a strategic priority for many schools, just 10 % prioritize in-class technology training. The first step toward building an IT strategy is understanding why it is essential.
The absence of a technology strategy poses a variety of risks and challenges. A school may find itself:
- More vulnerable to cyber threats, malicious attackers, or disruptions—which could pose both practical and financial risk
- With increased odds of exposing confidential, personal data and information (especially of children/minors)
- Unable to develop and implement comprehensive disaster recovery or a business continuity plan
- Unable to meet legal and regulatory compliance, which could result in the levy of significant fines and penalties
Alternatively, a solid technology strategy will optimize operational integration and efficiency across all departments. It eases friction within the learning relationship between teachers and students, making it easier to raise funds and manage overhead.
It’s time to start defining your IT strategy. Connect with a technology advisory expert to discuss your school’s unique needs and learn how our team can help support your goals.